Retro Is The New New Thing
Things have loosened way up in publishing since I wrote DEATH TURNS A TRICK, and what a relief for female readers! In 1982, when it was first published, it was pretty daring—it had a hookers’ union in it, a certain amount of swearing, and a smart-mouthed female lawyer.
Guess what the daring part was? Right—the mouth on that female mouthpiece, scrappy lawyer Rebecca Schwartz.
In DEATH TURNS A TRICK, Rebecca holds an impromptu press conference to make her client’s case in the public arena. An editor (female, I’m horribly afraid) told me I had to cut the scene because that would be “unprofessional”. Since when, I argued, is a lawyer shooting off her mouth considered unprofessional? Isn’t that her job? I won, but even then I thought it curious that a woman editor was still so timid about female assertion. And now? Ha! Look at the portrayal of women on DAMAGES. Now female lawyers can not only be assertive, they can even be mean. Really really mean.
If I do say so, Rebecca was ahead of her time in other ways as well. She was sort of naughty for 1982, maybe a bit frivolous, a little too interested in clothes and dating. While Kinsey Millhone was out there blowing people away and V.I. Warshawski was showing us how cool we could be if we could just learn to tell people off, Rebecca was wearing what she called “wicked woman shoes.” Nowadays, no need for the euphemism. She could call them “f-me pumps” and hardly an eye would bat.
She’s much more a female lawyer of the 21st Century than she was of her era. That was a time in which women were so focused on being accepted as equals in the workplace they’d lost their sense of humor. Or so went the word on the street. Looking back, it’s not that far off the mark. But with so many battles won, women can afford to have broader sensibilities now –to be more relaxed and easy with ourselves.
And also cute (though not so much on DAMAGES). And fashion conscious. And flawed. Case in point: in TOURIST TRAP, Rebecca has to go undercover to find a witness, requiring a brunette-to-blonde disguise that leaves her with green hair for her big moment in court. Could happen to anybody, right? Well, in a comic novel it could. But wait—are lawyers funny? (Girl ones, that is.) Then, not so much; now, anything goes. Funny is large, thanks to Janet Evanovich, master of the inept-but-winning sleuth-style. Before Stephanie Plum bumbled onto the scene, you just weren’t taken seriously if you weren’t hard-boiled.
Accidents that threatened one’s dignity weren’t supposed to happen to professional women in the 80s. In those days we all had so much riding on that word “professional” the hair joke made my book seem frivolous to some. But Evanovich’s wild popularity carved out a niche for the funny, not-so-perfect female sleuth.
The 1982 cover of that first edition was dark, serious, and tasteful. I thought it quite suitable for a novel about a female lawyer by a serious female writer. The ebook cover, cicca 2012—would have me cringe in those days—actually would probably have made me cry. Now it makes me want to kick up my heels! Check it out:
Death Turns a Trick (Rebecca Schwartz #1) by Julie Smith
Cozy mystery*paperback & e-book, 177 pages
Publisher: booksBnimble (August 2, 2012)
Rebecca Schwartz, nice Jewish lawyer with a few too many fantasies, is happily playing the piano in a whorehouse when she suddenly finds herself assigned to make sure a near-naked state senator escapes a police raid. That dirty job done, a lovely evening turns even more delightful when she’s picked up by the cops and spends the next two hours at the Hall of Justice. Could this day get any worse? Of Course! Guess who arrives home to find a dead hooker on her living room floor?
Handsome Parker Phillips, Rebecca’s new beau and the most attractive man she’s met in ages, is arrested for the murder. (Worse, she suspects he might actually have done it.)
On the plus side, another very attractive man is following the case--reporter Rob Burns of the San Francisco Chronicle, a possible ally. And there are other possibilities.
About the author:
New Orleans author Julie smith is a former journalist and the author of some 20 mysteries, including two series set in San Francisco and two in New Orleans. Her 1990 mystery, NEW ORLEANS MOURNING, won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. DEATH TURN A TRICK is the first book in the Rebecca Schwartz series.